The work of the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners,

Angela Sibson heads the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners, which has the task of training and advising professionals on how to help parents bring up children. Anabel Unity Sale speaks to her

There is a red and white sign in Angela Sibson’s office that says “Keep Calm and Carry On”. It is a replica of a 1939 Ministry of Information poster. Hanging in Sibson’s London office at the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners, the sign seems apt given the tasks ahead.

The government launched the parenting academy in October 2007 to help improve outcomes for young people, support parents and reduce antisocial behaviour. It provides specialist training, research and knowledge.

Parenting practitioner

A parenting practitioner is any practitioner who comes into contact with children and their families. This includes social workers, Sure Start staff, health visitors, housing workers, nurses, clinical psychologists and therapists. The academy seeks to provide them with the training and knowledge to give the best advice possible to parents on how to raise their children. Sibson says that the parenting academy’s approach is not the “if I were you” school of parenting. “Some practitioners aren’t confident in offering that advice and would like to have some form of objective voice about what is known to work best, and that is where we come in,” she says.

The academy runs free training and workshops across England for practitioners and nearly 1,500 have attended these courses.

Outreach team

The academy has a 16-strong team of regional outreach staff with experience of working in the parenting services sector and have access to local initiatives and practitioners. These regional development managers are based in government offices in England’s regions and work closely with local authority parenting commissioners to see how they implement their local parenting strategy. If any practitioner has a query about how to best advise a family, they can approach the academy’s development manager via their local parenting commissioner.

Good parenting – or a lack of it – is high on the political agenda. Stories regularly appear in the media about poor parents. and professionals often come under fire for a perceived failure to help families before tragedies occur. Often the media presents poor parenting as solely affecting working class families living in socially deprived communities such as parts of Doncaster and Haringey. But are middle class parents, by default, successfully raising their children without the need for social care’s help?

Sibson believes the issue is complex. “Anyone who has been a parent will know that it is a continual process of making choices about how to handle a situation,” she says. “Parents recognise they depend on their own experiences of being parented and what other parents they know are doing. Most parents would say they recognise they don’t get it right every time.”

Research into parents

The academy is conducting a research programme into the characteristics of parents who access support and how professionals can help parents make different choices.

As a mother of two grown-up children, Sibson says she understands how parents are often unsure whether they are doing the right thing. “Nothing prepares you for the weight of responsibility you feel as a parent.”

Although she never sought professional help when she was raising her children, Sibson says she empathises with parents who do, and wants practitioners to appreciate this too. “If parents turn to professionals for advice then what skills, experience and insight do the people who work with parents need in order to support them?”

In the coming year, Sibson wants the academy to develop its support of the parenting sector and those who work within it. “The difference we are aspiring to make with practitioners is that they will be confident about offering evidence-based advice and information to parents.”

This article appearede in the 12 February issue of Community Care under the heading National Academy for Parenting Practitioners 

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